Elected leaders from Mobile and Baldwin counties thanked Gov. Robert Bentley and the Alabama Department of Transportation Thursday for their decision to move forward with the preliminary design process for the proposed Mobile River Bridge and Bayway widening project.

Bentley announced the decision today, saying the state will begin the design process for the proposed “B Prime” route.

Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson, Mobile County Commission President Connie Hudson and Baldwin County Commissioner Chris Elliott were among a group of regional business and transportation leaders, who were briefed on the decision by ALDOT Director John Cooper during a meeting at Government Plaza this morning.

“This decision marks a huge step forward for the bridge project,” Stimpson said.. “Starting the design process now will save significant amount of time and allow us to focus on getting the project funded and completed as soon as possible. This is great news for all of south Alabama.”

Hudson said the bridge is vital to address traffic volume through the tunnels in Mobile and to expand the flow of commerce through the Port of Mobile.

“We are extremely pleased to see forward momentum in the design and planning for the I-10 bridge project,” Hudson said. “Governor Bentley’s leadership in prioritizing this significant project toward completion is crucial and greatly appreciated.”

Elliott said there is strong consensus in support of the project on both sides of Mobile Bay.

“We are experiencing remarkable growth in south Alabama and we must improve our transportation infrastructure to meet that growing demand,” Elliott said. “We are grateful that Governor Bentley and Director Cooper recognize the importance of the bridge and are eager to work with them to keep it moving forward.”

ALDOT said it is currently finalizing the preliminary design scope. Advertisement for design consultants is expected to begin in the next few weeks, and ALDOT anticipates selecting the consultant this summer.

The B Prime route was the preferred alternative corridor named in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, which was approved by the Federal Highway Administration in July of 2014.

The bridge route starts at Virginia Street, crosses the Mobile River just south of the Mobile Cruise Terminal, continues across Pinto Island and joins the center of the Bayway, where it will continue through the US-90/98 interchange in Baldwin County.